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Five US soldiers killed in flashpoint Iraq city

29 January, 2008

A US soldier takes position as his unit searches a village near Salman Pak, on the outskirts of south Baghdad, for Al-Qaeda militants. Five US soldier
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MOSUL, Iraq (AFP) - Five US soldiers were killed in flashpoint Mosul city on Monday when their patrol was struck by a roadside bomb and then attacked by gunmen holed up in a nearby mosque, the American military said.

The attack comes days after the city was rocked by devastating blasts that killed dozens, including a police chief, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised a "decisive battle" against Al-Qaeda in its last urban stronghold.

US military spokeswoman in northern Iraq, Major Peggy Kageleiry, said the soldiers had been conducting a mounted patrol when their vehicle detonated a roadside bomb, killing five soldiers.

"Insurgents attacked the other soldiers in the patrol with small arms fire from a nearby mosque.

"Iraqi army forces and coalition forces secured the area and returned fire on the insurgents. The Iraqi army entered the mosque, but the insurgents had fled the area," Kageleiry said.

"The insurgents are willing to desecrate a place of worship by using it to attack soldiers to further their agenda."

Iraqi police said fighting broke out on Monday between US troops and unidentified armed men in eastern Haysuma neighbourhood, a known Al-Qaeda bastion, but gave no other details.

Iraqi and US forces are engaged in an extensive operation against Al-Qaeda in Mosul as part of a nationwide crackdown on the jihadists codenamed Operation Phantom Phoenix launched on January 8.

The latest US deaths bring to 3,940 the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, according to an AFP tally based on independent website www.icasualties.org.

January has seen a spike in US fatalities, with 36 recorded so far against 23 in December.

Al-Qaeda is blamed by American commanders for much of the violence still shaking Iraq.

Iraq's Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed said the situation in Mosul is "worse than imagined" after touring the flashpoint city on Sunday.

The minister was sharply critical of the Iraqi army's deployment in the city, telling reporters: "The forces are scattered.

"We are working to unify the command. The military units are distributed in Mosul in a way that means they haven't studied the area.

"The 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi army works in the day and withdraws at night, leaving the insurgents free to move. There are many negative things and we must address them," the minister added.

"The security generally in Nineveh province is at a good level but in Mosul, the provincial capital, it is bad. The situation ... is worse than imagined by far."

Defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari said on Sunday that military reinforcements, comprising troops, tanks and vehicles, had reached Mosul for a huge offensive against Al-Qaeda.

He gave no details of the size of the deployment and would not comment on when the operation would begin.

The prime minister on Friday promised a "decisive battle" against the jihadists in Nineveh province after last week's devastating blasts.

On Wednesday, according to the US military, a cache of munitions stored by insurgents blew up in a building in west Mosul's Zanjili suburb, leaving a massive crater and damaging about 100 surrounding houses.

A suicide bomber killed provincial police chief Brigadier General Salah al-Juburi and two other officers the next day when they went to inspect the carnage.

Iraqi officials put the toll from Wednesday's blast at 35 people killed and 217 wounded, but the Iraqi Red Crescent in a report on its website said the toll was much higher.

"Many families had buried their killed relatives immediately after the attack without getting them registered," it said.

"This has brought the estimate of the number of killed people to 60; most of them were children, women and elderly," the Red Crescent said.

"At least 280 people were wounded in the attack; some of them are in a very critical situation. It is expected that there are still dead bodies buried under the rubble."

End.

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